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Modern Estate Planning Blog

Elder Law & Special Needs Planning

What is Elder Law & How To Plan for Care in California

January 7, 2020

For many Californians over the age of 65, Medicare helps pay for doctors’ appointments and hospital bills. 

However, Medicare doesn’t cover everything—and there are a lot of long-term finances to take into consideration. Help with daily care, also known as activities of daily living or ADL's, for older individuals like bathing, dressing, and eating are not covered by Medicare . 

To prevent financial pressure due to unexpected long-term care and medical costs, you need to create an elder care resource plan of action to help you and your family in the future. 

In this blog, we will discuss some of the ways you can plan ahead and how an elder law attorney can help you make the best decisions for your family. 

What Services Do Elder Law Attorneys Offer?

When many people hear the phrase “elder law attorney” they may immediately think of lawsuits—such as when a family experiences a nursing home nightmare or elder physical or financial abuse.  

However, most elder law attorneys are not litigators and work with individuals and families to help them understand the legal issues they might face as they age. This includes things like health, housing, long-term care, financial well-being and the financial well-being of their families. 

Elder law attorneys can also assist the family in exploring the best options for their loved one and create a plan that accounts for all the necessities of long-term care if their loved one develops a debilitating illness, or because of aging, and can’t take care of themselves. 

Elder law attorneys specialize in numerous areas including;

  • Estate planning, wills, powers of attorney, trusts, conservatorship and probate 
  • Preservation or transfer of assets in order to avoid spousal impoverishment when a spouse needs nursing home care
  • Eligibility planning for long-term care placements in nursing homes
  • Medicare appeals and claims
  • Administration and management of estates and trusts

An elder law attorney can provide you and your family with advice in these areas and can also design a future plan, including:

  • Advice on what’s best for you and your family
  • Help you develop a long-term plan of elderly care
  • Help you with accessing Medi-Cal (Medicaid)
  • Protect your assets from financial exploitation and nursing home expenses

Why Should You Coordinate A Plan With Your Elder Law Attorney?

Finding long-term care is one thing, but looking for the funds to cover it can be incredibly difficult. Lack of elderly planning can result in funds being rapidly depleted or the inability to locate and secure a place in an appropriate care facility or nursing home. 

A good elder law attorney can help you make a plan for what type of long-term care is preferable and how you should go about paying for it. 

They can also help with:

  • Understanding the different types of health care settings and providers for long-term care
  • Structuring financial resources in order to cover the cost of the care
  • Protecting your assets and your legacy

How Can You Pay For A Nursing Home?

What is Elder Law & How to Plan for Care in California

A well-known fact about nursing homes is that they are incredibly expensive. Whether you’re in need of a nursing home for yourself, or you’re concerned for a loved one or aging parents, the cost of the service can often leave a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the future. 

While the cost of care can initially appear staggering, there are options in place for those who need it, such as government programs and strategies to help you or your family afford long-term care.  

The Short-Term Solution

As we’ve mentioned already, Medicare is a government health insurance program for people over the age of 65. It covers many things, like:

  • Doctor visits
  • Hospital care
  • Outpatient services
  • Nursing home care (limited)

However, while Medicare provides some coverage for nursing home stays it is limited, far from a permanent solution. In all cases, Medicare will only cover up to the first 100 days an individual stays at a nursing home; for many, this isn’t enough. 

Medicare was designed for those who may have suffered from an acute injury or illness and need short-term rehabilitation care while they recover. For many seniors with long-term care needs, the short stay is not enough. 

The Long-Term Solution

If somebody is in need of a long-term or permanent care, the options include in-home care, residential board and care, assisted living, and nursing homes. All forms of care carry a large price tag. When families decide that a nursing home might be the best choice, they are often hit with a surprise at the price for long term residential care. 

On average a typical nursing home can cost around $10,000 a month - which is an impossible amount of money for the majority of everyday Americans. In-home care in the patient’s own home, which many people would like, is even more expensive - $500-600 per day, $182,500 per year! 

Medi-Cal / Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that provides qualifying individuals the care they need at a reduced and sometimes no cost. This makes nursing homes a lot more affordable and a major difference for those who are able to qualify for it. 

Medi-Cal / Medicaid usually covers all nursing home services, as well as some home or community-based services, for those who wouldn’t necessarily need the assistance of skilled nursing care but still need some assistance.

—For more information on Medi-Cal, click here to download our ebook “Get The Government To Pay For Your Long-Term Care”—

How To Qualify For Medi-Cal

For you or your loved one to qualify for Medi-Cal, your total countable assets must be under a certain amount; $2,000 for an individual, and $3,000 for a couple in California, but this amount can vary depending on which state you live in. Income restrictions may also apply depending on the program you are applying for.

Countable assets include:

  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Cash value of your life insurance
  • Real estate, other than your home

To become eligible for Medi-Cal, most people pay for their own medical care until their assets are depleted enough to apply for the program.

There are legal strategies that can help seniors become eligible for Medi-Cal without spending down to their last dime. These strategies are often complex and specific, so getting the assistance of an elder law lawyer is a necessity. 

Here are a few strategies that you can bring up with your elder law attorney in order to help you with your future care:

Asset protection trusts

An asset protection trust is an irrevocable trust which removes assets from the older person’s control. These trusts should be used with caution as the terms can’t be changed without permission from the beneficiaries or the court and great care should be given to selection of the trustee.

Gifting your assets 

Giving the money to a relative or responsible child is also an option, although it is far riskier than others. Once the money transfer is completed, it will legally belong to the other person. Even if the child or relative is completely trustworthy, there are events like divorce, death, or lawsuit that could put the money in jeopardy. Creating a trust is far less risky and recommended.

Getting Started

If you’d like to learn more about elder law or start talking with an elder law attorney about your family’s needs, feel free to schedule a consultation by calling us directly at 916-241-9661.

*The information in this post is related to California. If you are located in another state, this information may not be appropriate for your state.

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My wife and I have some quite large complexities both in our individual preferences and the construct of our life. When planning for our trust, Heather took the time to hear EVERYTHING we said. The trust which Heather formed for our family took all our concerns into account. When everything was said and done, we received a trust which, by design, is extremely personal to our circumstance. We also are delighted to have Heather to be part of our team of advocates to help when the time comes.

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